Showing posts from December, 2017

Amazing Pittas of Kuala Lumpur

Pittas are small short-tailed, multi-coloured ground-dwelling birds and a visual treat to encounter. General information on the pittas can be found here . In this region, Alfred Russell Wallace (1869) used the distribution of pittas in nearby Sumatra to discuss problems in palaeobiogeography, noting the discovery on the small rocky island of Banca of " two new ground thrushes of the genus Pitta, closely allied to, but quite distinct from, two other species inhabiting both Sumatra and Borneo, and which did not perceptibly differ in these large and widely separated islands. This is just as if the Isle of Man possessed a peculiar species of thrush and blackbird, distinct from the birds which are common to England and Ireland. " The Malay Archipelago, Chapter 9. In and around Kuala Lumpur there are three species of pitta to be found; the mangrove pitta, blue-winged pitta and the hooded pitta. I had met the mangrove pitta ( Pitta megarhyncha ) this June on Pulau Indah , nea

An Ancient Cornish Specimen of "Cubical Copper Pyrites" from Dolcoath

Old mineral specimens can acquire fascinating veneers of history in addition to their scientific and aesthetic interest. Shown here is one such example; not beautiful on the face of it, but full of interest, nonetheless. An ancient mineral specimen from the Dalcoath Mine, Cornwall, about 7 cm across. Large chalcopyrite crystals, to 35 mm across, grow on a bed of quartz crystals, each to 3 cm long. Two generations of the iron carbonate siderite later partially encrusted both quartz and chalcopyrite, the last generation being a "dusting" of microcrystals. On the evidence of its oldest attached label, the specimen was probably mined around two centuries ago. How can we tell? The oldest of several labels describes the specimen as follows: " Black Oxide of Copper  coating Cubical Copper Pyrites and  Carbte of Iron on Quartz Dalcoath Mine Cornwall " The old handwritten label accompanying the specimen illustrated above. " Bl

Svend Estridsen and the Vinland Colony

I recently received an attractive coin of Svend Estridsen , which I like for the link with the North American expeditions of around a thousand years ago. Svend Estridsen (Sveinn Ástríðarson in Old Norse) was born in England (ca. 1019), son of Ulf Jarl and Estrid Svendsdatter. Estrid was the daughter of King Sweyn (Svend) Forkbeard (son of Harald Bluetooth) and was sister to King Cnut the Great. Adam of Bremen , the medieval chronicler, visited Svend's court and recorded accounts of Vinland he heard there in his " Descriptio Insularum Aquilonis ." " Moreover he [Svend Estridsen] spoke of an island in that ocean discovered by many, which is called Vinland, for the reason that vines grow wild there, which yield the best of wine. Moreover that grain unsown grows there abundantly, is not a fabulous fancy, but from the accounts of the Danes, we know to be a fact. Beyond this island, it is said, that there is no habitable land in that ocean, but all those regions w